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Review: KinoEar at the wulf

On Friday July 3, 2015 the wulf featured a presentation by KinoEar, a collaboration between composer Ma’ayan Tsadka and visual media artist Danielle Williamson. A surprisingly ample holiday-weekend crowd turned out to witness the video documentation of a fascinating series of found instruments, their associated sounds and the relationship they have to their physical surroundings.

The first video was made at the McHenry Library at UC Santa Cruz, on the outside stair case. This stairway is made completely of steel and has railing posts about 6 inches apart. A large wooden stick from a nearby tree was used to strike each of the railing posts in passing as a person walked down several flights. This generated a series of wonderfully booming tones – almost bell-like in timbre, yet unmistakeably metallic and mundane at the same time. The video reinforced the image of a utilitarian stairwell, but the sounds were often musical. The pitch seemed to lower somewhat as the bottom levels of the stairs were reached and the sound receded into the distance. At other times a rapid trilling was achieved by moving the stick rapidly back and forth between two railing posts. At one point the entire steel staircase was struck, generating great resonant thunderclaps. All of this was captured with a boom microphone, field recorder and simple video camera. The intriguing part is that your brain has to determine what sounds are musical and bell-like and what is simply metallic noise. The tones and video cross back and forth over this boundary and the listener is constantly evaluating the images and the sounds.

The next video sequence featured rocks being thrown at a steel drainage grate in the middle of a field. When a rock struck, a bright chiming sound was heard – like being inside a small clockwork striking the hour. The tones and length of reverberation varied, and eventually a person was seen striking the grate repeatedly with a rock, generating different volume levels depending on the force. Finally, a rock was dragged over the entire grate, creating a rapid clatter of chimes that was very musical. The visual presence of the utilitarian grate in the middle of the field belied the brilliance of its sound and this made for an interesting contrast.

A third video showed a tube emerging from a cement casing and the open end was struck with a wooden stick. Several video images of this were shown simultaneously and this gave a sort of rhythm to the sequence. The sounds were not bright or even metallic, but rather a light glassy clanking that echoed down the tube and returned again with a characteristic  thump.

There was also a series of videos made at Yosemite and in the first of these the sights and sounds of traffic roaring through a darkened tunnel proved both powerful and frightening. The camera then follows a side tunnel and all is serene until the end is reached, revealing a spectacular view of the valley below. Another sequence featured rocks thrown into Chilnualna Creek and these landed in the water with a series of satisfying splashes of varying pitch and character. Anyone who has done this as a child will sense the nostalgia that this evokes and mentally calculate the size of the rock from its splash.

Another Yosemite location centered on a large stair railing, and when this was struck it gave off a chime big enough for a cathedral bell. Other parts of the railing gave off higher and lighter pitches and birds could be heard squawking in the background This was done at dawn with a video image of Half Dome looming above – an almost church-like setting – and a definite zen sensibility. In the final sequence a large tree was struck in various places on its trunk and this produced, variously, a full, booming resonance or a lighter clicking sound depending on where the blow was struck. Three images and sounds were combined and this brought to mind a sort of primal drumming.

Like the music of Pauline Oliveros, KinoEar has captured sounds that have two simultaneous contexts and it is left to the listener’s brain to separate the musical from the prosaic. These KinoEar videos are a thoughtful exploration into the relationship between images, music and acoustics.

Several of the KinoEar videos are available here.


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